It was a beautiful day. Okay, it could have been storming and the house on fire but, to me, any day with my boys beside me was a beautiful, glorious day. After the experiences we'd had in the last week or, so I was so grateful for all that I had, especially my guys.
As with many summer days, this particular one started with the two older boys going for their morning bike ride. I must have been holding my breath when they told me their plans because they both assured me that they'd be careful. It didn't help much to calm me, but I still let them go.
AJ went over to Jeb's for the first time since being released from the hospital so he could gather blueberries. I made sure he took his daily pill first. He was a ball of lightning when he got back laden with two full containers of berries.
"Dad, great grampa met me at the gate and we picked a ton of berries together! It was so fun just bein' with him again. I missed his good ole stories and stuff. It seems like a year since I could do anything, ya know."
I had to agree with him. It had been the longest few days of my life and almost the end of his. So, it was little wonder that, when he came sailing into the house, looking for the strainer to wash his berries, I was much relieved, and yet, excited for him.
Soon, Elliot and Jeffy returned and had to tell me about every bird, every tree and every sound they heard on their hour-long ride. Every person they passed seemed to have a story and every mile they rode was better than the last. Their appreciation of every living thing seemed to be among the greatest gifts that their adventures provided for them. I couldn't believe that they could out-talk AJ. He sat with his hands under his chin at the kitchen table with an awed expression on his face.
AJ was so funny. That morning, when the phone rang all four of us had just finished a huge mound of blueberry pancakes. You'd have thought those boys hadn't eaten since, well, the night before! AJ was his talkative self, when the other two boys had their mouths full, filling us in on every aspect of life from his eyes, his point of view, describing his morning. I absorbed every word, every gesture and expression and every comment and laugh from Jeffy and Elliot as well.
My boys were back!
The phone had been a constant source of entertainment for all three boys over the past few days. They had fans calling when they'd heard the story from someone else and needed to hear it firsthand, I guess. So, we all just thought one of the boys was in for another round of explaining their progress since that day.
Anyway, with pancake syrup on his face and hands, AJ grabbed for the phone and hailed heartily, "McGill residence! AJ speaking."
As he said it he looked over at me with the biggest grin, knowing he'd answered it just like we'd discussed many times before, an exercise about which he was getting lots of practice. Then his look quickly turned to one of disappointment on his cute face as he said to me, "It's for you-u."
The other two boys were doing everything they could to keep from laughing.
I took the sticky handset from him and held it to my ear, now also sticky.
"Tim McGill, here."
"Oh, Tim," said Linda Sue's voice. "I'm so glad I caught you. Um, I have a bit of a quandary and was wondering if you'd still be home in an hour."
"Of course, I will be if that's what you need, Linda Sue. The guys were going to watch the contractors continue to work on the house today. Is this work related or a social call?"
"We-ell, let's just say it's a little of both, but mainly work. Anyway, we'll be there in about an hour. Bye."
"We, Linda Sue?" I said to the dial tone in my ear. I just figured she must have Tyler with her. That would be fun for the boys if he tagged along.
By the time we heard a knock on the door, saws were buzzing, and hammers were busting through to the outside, making way for our new addition. The concrete had been poured for the foundation days before and the simple framing had already started as well.
Again, AJ jumped at the chance to answer the door first, running through the house screaming, "I'll get it!"
"AJ, please don't yell. Great Grampa doesn't care if you're answering our door or not."
"Oops! Sorry, Dad," he said as he looked back at me, over his shoulder, with his hand on the front door knob.
"Good morning, AJ," said Linda Sue when the boy pulled the door open. "I see you're in fine voice this morning."
AJ's complexion quickly turned to a brilliant pink, then an amazing smile.
"Oops! You heard that?"
"AJ," laughed Jeffy, "almost everybody in the state heard ya. Good grief."
"Dad, it's Linda Sue Cottington."
"Hi, Linda Sue," I said, coming to the door to welcome her. "Now what's this mystery you called about and where's Tyler? I thought he was the other part of the 'we' that you mentioned."
"Oh, um, no. I dropped him off at the library earlier this morning. No, the 'we' will be here in a minute or two. I wanted to come by and, first, drop off the forms and information we went over to adopt your two boys. That's so exciting. They are both such good, deserving boys of a good dad like you, Tim." She handed me a manila envelope.
She always simply beamed brightly whenever we talked about our adoptions. It was very motivating, which simply added to my desire to be the boys' father.
Somehow, the envelope was gold to me, or what was in it, rather. It was one step closer to something we all wanted, the boys and I. But my curiosity was taking the lead just then.
"And can you give me a little clue as to our guests?" I asked, returning her smile as I took the envelope.
"Yes, well, the second reason I'm here is to prepare you for an opportunity to expand your clan by just a little bit," she answered, holding up her thumb and first finger in front of her face with only about an inch between them.
"You're kidding. What are you thinking?" I laughed, holding up the envelope. "I've got all the family we'll need for a while to come. You want me to foster another child?"
"Well, no-o-o. Actually, this wouldn't involve fostering at all."
The way she said that, it was pretty obvious to me that I wasn't getting the whole story. In the split second, I had to think about it, my mind couldn't come up with an alternative to fostering. By this time all three boys had gathered around me and I knew that I couldn't have been more blessed by the family I already had.
But just then, we heard the clunking and coughing of something painfully coming down the road and then witnessed an old, smoking, station wagon turns into the driveway. It was one of the vintage ones with the fake wood panels going down either side. The one that should have been on the passenger side door was missing. The area was sprayed with gray primer, but the rest of the car could have used a paint job as well.
Soon enough, the driver's side door opened to let out an overweight lady in her late thirties with unkempt hair and in a housedress and what looked like an attitude. As she worked her way out of the car, she blew a puff of smoke and flipped her cigarette butt into the yard. She coughed so hard she almost lost her balance trying to stay upright, holding onto the hood of the car for support. She hailed over to the passenger side using gruff sounding, but unintelligible words and that door opened a little more slowly.
"Ah, here they are now," said Linda Sue, looking somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable at the lady's outburst as she walked over to the passenger who was just getting out.
"Darlene Fairchild?" said Jeffy who had come out to stand right behind me. "Dad, I know her."
The young lady that got out looked about Jeffy's age and had long dark hair. I couldn't see her face because her head was down. Soon enough I would find out that she was a very cute girl.
"Oh, you do, do you? From school?" I asked.
"Yeah, but not just from school. I thought she took off somewhere close to when school started."
Instead of coming up to the house, all three women went to the back door of the car. Our two new guests watched as Linda Sue opened the door, leaned in and came out a few seconds later holding a car seat, complete with baby.
I immediately turned toward Jeffy who held up his hands at me.
"Not me, Dad! She'd been hangin' around with Jarod, kinda, before, um, he . . . well, died."
By then Linda Sue and our guests were walking toward me.
"Tim, I'd like to present you with your grandson, Lewis."
After a moment for me to recover from the initial shock, the conversation and the eight of us moved into the living room. The mother of the girl and the girl, Darlene, took the couch. The baby sat in his car carrier on the floor with AJ laying right in front of him. Linda Sue and I both took the two recliners and Jeffy was leaning over the back of mine. Elliot went back to reading in the light from the back windows or where they'd been before the construction began.
"I'm sorry to hit you with the news like that. I think we need to explain a few things," said Linda Sue.
"Yes, I'd appreciate that."
"Tim McGill, this is Verna Willoughby and her daughter, Darlene Fairchild. The little one is Lewis, and he's about six months old."
As she said that AJ gave the little guy one of his great smiles and the baby repaid him with a big puffy smile with the pinkest cheeks. I'll have to say, he was adorable.
"Nice to meet you both," I said, not really sure if it were true just then or not.
Mrs. Willoughby didn't wait for the introductions to conclude. She just started talking as though she'd left off telling the rest of the story someplace down the road before they arrived.
"Ya see, when the girl got knocked up, uh, pregnant, we wanted ta keep it quiet like. You know, so's it wouldn't tarnish the family's reputation no more."
I caught myself before my eyes rolled to the back of my head. I saw Linda Sue look away and take a slow deep breath. Even Jeffy ducked behind my chair long enough to give out an 'oh brother!'
"We moved her on over ta my sister's place in North Carolina. They got's young 'uns still so we thought it would help the girl get ready for raisin' her own. Well, it didn't work out so good. Besides bein' a damn boy baby, the girl practically freaked out ever' time the baby fussed."
Right then we heard a kind of chirp and giggle from the littlest one on the floor in front of me. AJ looked up and beamed at his accomplishment.
"She ain't no good for bein' a mother, that's fer sure," the woman continued.
As she said that the disdain in her look at her daughter almost made me want to slap the woman. It was a feeling that was to repeat itself several times.
I could just imagine the trauma that Darlene went through at her aunt's, if her aunt was anything like her mother.
"So, why are you here?" I asked looking from her to Linda Sue, then to a blushing young lady.
"It's all official-like and ever'thing. This here county woman had some o' the boy's blood drawn and had it tested to see who was the daddy? Seems it landed on that no-good Brown kid that the girl used to hang onto for a coupla months ever' so often till he disappeared."
"Momma, I told you he's dead. He got himself kilt in a accident crossin' the highway outta town."
"Shut up, girl! Nobody cares what happened to the likes of him. We just know that . . ."
"Excuse me, ma'am," I interrupted. "The boy you're talking about happens to be my son. I'd appreciate a little respect, especially in my house."
She looked at me like I was crazy. I'm not sure if it was because I claimed Jarod as my own or if she just wasn't used to being challenged.
"Well, well. You raised quite a boy then, mister, rapin' my daughter and all."
"I beg your pardon," I said.
"Momma, it weren't like that. I toll you it weren't. We, um, we was just lovin' and . . ."
"Yeah, lovin' every guy that would let her into their pants," whispered Jeffy into my ear.
That came as no surprise to me, but that was an unfair judgment on my part based only on stereotyping.
"What'd the boy say?" asked the woman, trying to look through me at Jeffy.
"He said he knew of their relationship and that it got carried away at times."
Darlene was pretty much crimson colored by that time and her mother was starting to fidget uncomfortably.
"If I may interject to clarify some things," stated Linda Sue. "Tim, we did DNA testing on the baby and found he matched Jarod Brown's without a doubt. It seems that this is your grandson. Now, the problem is . . ."
"Yeah, see, we ain't stickin' around no more. We're movin' to North Carolina too. We got most of my folk back there, as I said. Frankly, we got no use for the child. You want him, he's yours. You don't we'll just adopt him out. Course, we do that we'll be makin' some good cash if'n we do it right."
"Mrs. Willoughby! I thought I made it clear there would be none of that kind of talk today," said Linda Sue, sitting straight up in her chair and glaring at one of the crudest people I've ever met.
"Oh, you know perfectly well there ain't much nobody can do once we get away from here. What's wrong with makin' us a little comfortable for all the pain we suffered 'cause o' his son, anyway?" she asked, pointing a cigarette-stained finger at me.
"I suppose you have a point there," I said calmly. Believe me, saying it calmly was hard to do. "But let me assure you that if you do anything outside of the law involving this child, I'll see to it that you are locked up for a long time to come if I have to hire every private investigator between here and North Carolina to find you."
"Well, do daw! I am shiverin' in my boots. You want this child? What's in it fer me? Bottom line." She actually leaned forward with her knees spread and a hand on each knee as she attempted to stare me down. Thank God for long house dresses. Talk about stereotyping.
I looked over at Linda Sue. I didn't know what was legal. I just knew that baby was going to be looked after and loved like he hadn't known up to that point. It took very little to make the right decision.
"I'll write you a check right now for two thousand dollars. That should get you to North Carolina and settled into some quaint single-wide near some railroad tracks."
"Hey! I don't hafta . . ."
"Momma, just take it and let's go. I just wanna go now, please, for once."
"Humpf! You're insultin' my intelligence, mister. Besides that, it's a double-wide I'll have you know.
Jeffy almost spit in my ear in his attempt to hold back his laughter.
"Why I've half a mind to . . ."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. Three thousand then. Take it or leave it. Either way, the baby stays here. Right, Linda Sue?"
"Um, of course. Yes. I will not let the baby leave our jurisdiction."
I didn't know if she had the authority to do that, but I was also pretty sure that Mrs. Willoughby had no idea either.
"Good God. I suppose I'll take it then. Better be a good check or I'll collect on the penalty too, ya know."
"Jeffy, hall drawer, please."
Jeffy returned with my checkbook and I quickly wrote out the amount. As I did, I heard the baby laugh at some antic AJ was using to keep him occupied. Jeffy finally got down on the floor and crawled around and was watching the two boys on the floor.
"To?" I asked, looking up at our guest.
"Verna Willoughby," she answered me, spelling it slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, like it hurt her head, or she wasn't quite sure.
And with that, the first thing that flashed into my head was - we would need another bedroom.
One of the most remarkable happenings through that whole event was that AJ barely made a sound the whole time the Willoughbys were in our home. As we all stood on the porch and watched their car smoke its way down our driveway, leaving a little baby with us, I looked down at AJ. He had his patented grin on his face that was taking on a more concentrated look, like he was holding something in. When it exploded out of him, I was sure we were back to normal, plus one minor addition.
"Yippe-e-e-e-e-e! Wahoo-oo-oo-oo! We got a baby!" he screamed, dancing around like the nut he was more often than not.
Immediately, the baby, little Lewis, who was being held by Linda Sue, jumped from AJ's loud voice and started crying.
"AJ, you have to control yourself, young man," explained Linda Sue, patting Lewis on the back to soothe him. "A baby's ears are very sensitive."
"Oh, oh, I'm sorry. It's just so exciting. Dad, you knew I wanted a puppy but now we don't need one. We got Lewis!"
Linda Sue gasped, and I sighed. Jeffy ran back inside, laughing all the way. Lewis, he even let out a little smile while he looked over at his new uncle, AJ.
As we stood there, I was suddenly engulfed with the responsibility of our newest family member.
"My God, Linda Sue, what am I going to do with a brand-new baby? I barely know how to look after the ones that don't need their diapers changed."
"Oh, Tim, you'll do just fine. We'll work out the formula you'll need and do some shopping. Then we can work out a schedule that will include almost everything you'll need to do in the beginning."
"In the beginning? You know that I will do everything in my power to raise this baby, but you had better be by the phone every minute of every day just in case, please."
"Everything in my power too," added AJ seriously, with his hands on his hips.
"Good, AJ. Tim, you and the boys will simply have a ball raising this little guy. As long as AJ doesn't use him like a truck or something. He's not that kind of toy, AJ."
AJ gave a smirk that showed he didn't appreciate that humor.
"Nu-uh. He's not a toy at all, is he, Dad?"
"No, he's your new nephew. Very new in fact."
"Elliot!" shouted Jeffy. He was far enough away that he didn't startle the little one too much.
"We got us a new addition."
"Really? New bedroom or bathroom?" He knew full well what was going on, the tease.
"Nope. Baby. Oh, but it could mean a new baby's room, huh, Pop? Oh, maybe we can move him into the pipsqueak's purple and pink room!"
We'd wandered back inside. Linda Sue finally handed Lewis to me as Elliot walked up to us.
"Dad, Dad, can we hold him and stuff so we can play with him," asked AJ, pulling on my arm. Then he looked over at Linda Sue. "I mean, not play with him but . . . um . . . oh, let him play with us?"
"I suppose. Is it okay to let him out on the floor, Linda Sue?"
"Timothy McGill, you've had a baby in this house before. Don't tell me you don't remember what you were or were not allowed to do."
"Well, it was a while ago and I was only here for her first month or so. She was so little. Yes, I suppose I know more than I'm letting myself realize. Okay, AJ, you may play with him on the floor, gently."
"Put down the blanket first, boys. He's only six months old."
He sure was cute. He just had a t-shirt and disposable diaper on, and his buns stuck up in the air as he tried to pick one of the flowers in the pattern of the blanket. His pudgy legs looked more like little hams and his feet had tiny little nubbins for toes with even tinier toe nails.
While all three boys gathered around the baby, AJ had his head a few inches from the boy, watching everything that happened, then he'd look up and report it to us.
"Look, look. He thinks he can pick up that flower. Ha! He can't though. You can't pick it up, Lewis. It's attached."
It didn't take long for the other two boys to get in on the act, either. Every once in a while I was warmed by the boys looking up at Linda Sue and me, either just smiling or in awe of what they'd just seen the littlest of our brood manage.
### # # # # # # # # # ###
Before too long Linda Sue wrangled the two older boys to go to the store with her to buy what we needed for Lewis. I would have bet they would have whined at having to go but they jumped up and were practically in the car before Linda Sue could stand up. I have to think it was another experience in a long line of new, wonderful events these boys were learning to appreciate.
Meanwhile, AJ and I got out the baby crib that had been in his room when he moved in. Luckily, we hadn't gotten rid of it after we got the new bed for AJ.
Lewis was pretty content to watch us for the first half hour. AJ would lean into him and tell him what we were doing. He was so attentive to the child. He would make a very good uncle.
"Lewis, this is a bolt thing. It goes into this part to hold up, well, this part," he said, pointing each part out to his tiny nephew. "One day you'll be able to help and maybe do this all on your own when you're big and strong like me." He was twisting and turning to make sure the baby could see where he was pointing, I guess.
As he was saying that, I couldn't help thinking about the tool that fell into my lap, initiating some pain that had long since changed to a love for all of my family. I was so fortunate.
"AJ, hold it straight, please, or it's going to fall on us," I laughed.
"Oops! Okay, Dad."
"AJ, you're not the baby anymore," I informed him.
"Baby? I wasn't a baby; I mean, not here anyway."
"It just means you were the youngest until Lewis came around."
As we were getting done converting Lewis's bed back to a crib, which we placed in my room, he must have decided he was hungry. It had been a very big day for him so far. He started to fuss and finally sounded like he was trying to figure out if crying would make a difference.
"Dad, what's a matter with him?"
"Well, two possibilities, I suppose. It's past his mealtime. Babies eat a lot more often than big boys. Well, mostly, that is."
"Yeah, um, I can go get him a weiner or something?" he said, walking toward the door.
"No, I don't think we're quite ready for that yet. I have to ask Linda Sue. We'll just have to wait until she and the boys bring back his dinner."
"What's the other reason he's fussy?"
"Oh, he could have a poopy diaper," I answered.
"Oh yeah. Ew-w-w all you want, my boy, but we're all in this together and we're all going to learn how to do things for our little guy here, including changing diapers."
AJ looked right at Lewis as he scrunched up his nose and Lewis laughed at his uncle's funny face. He also reached out to try to grab that funny protrusion.
"'Kay, I suppose," said AJ, still making his way out of the room.
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, I made me hungry. You want a cold hot dog too?"
### # # # # # # # # # ###
I'd changed Lewis and we were having a talk and a rest, he on my lap and I in my recliner. AJ was at my feet attentive to everything Lewis was doing. We'd been relaxing for about a half hour.
Just as soon as the two boys and Linda Sue walked through the door, loaded with packages and what looked like half of the grocery store, the boys quickly dumped their load on the kitchen table and rushed up to stand in front of me.
It seemed funny that, at the same time, Linda Sue grabbed up the baby from me and asked AJ to follow them upstairs. Funny, because she spent most of the time looking over her shoulder at me.
"Pop, guess what?"
"Jeffy, I haven't a clue," I said, still trying to hone in on what was up with Linda Sue's behavior.
"Yeah, Pop, we're fifteen!" announced Elliot proudly.
"You don't say. When did this happen? Why wasn't I notified?"
"Po-op, you knew, right?"
"Yes, I have to admit, I knew. Okay, what gives? You do realize that you were both fifteen when you left a while ago and nothing that I know of has changed much except Lewis' diapers."
"Very funny, Pop. But we found out, or I guess we were reminded," said Jeffy, looking at his nodding brother, "that we're old enough to . . . drive!"
"Oh, you are, are you?" I said, which is exactly what you say when your kids think they just enlightened you on a subject of such remarkable importance.
"Uh huh. So, can we?" asked Jeffy.
They were both kind of hovering as close to me as they could without getting into my shirt. While they were really cute about it and totally beside themselves with excitement, I needed time to process this bit of information.
"Boys," I said, standing and laying a hand on one each of their shoulders.
"Oh, oh, Jeffy. Here it comes," winced Elliot.
"Now, Elliot, give me a chance. I don't think I've been too much of a disappointment to either of you, right?"
Both boys simmered down a bit and looked down as their toes were writing invisible designs on the living room carpet.
"No, 'course you haven't, Pop. It's just that Linda Sue asked us about it on the way home and, well, we never even thought about it with all that's been happenin' around here. Huh, El?"
"Right! Pop, we got excited and we should have waited for you to have some time to relax before we hit you with this. But it is kind of exciting to think about."
"Boys, thank you for seeing it to this end. Look, it is exciting. Driving is like your first venture into adulthood and is probably one of the most responsible skills you will ever learn. It's literally a matter of life and death. So, let's let the new dust settle a bit," I said, pointing upstairs to where Linda Sue and AJ had taken Lewis, "And talk about it in a week or so. I promise that the answer is yes as far as I'm concerned."
"Um, okay, Pop. That seems fair, considering all that's been happening," answered Elliot.
"Now, that doesn't mean that you both can't get manuals and start studying. You'll have to have a learner's permit before you can drive out in the open, you know."
"Hey, yeah! Wow, thanks, Pop! You're the best."
My reward for putting them off was two great hugs, one of my favorite things.
Of course, I gave Linda Sue the 'eye' when she and the youngest two came down, Lewis being all fresh and smiley. I let her worry for about one minute before I hugged her and told her we'd worked it out. She was much relieved to say the least.
### # # # # # # # # # ###
Linda Sue spent most of the day with us, trying to get things lined up for us to deal with our newest boy, Lewis, my grandson and the boys' nephew.
"You men are almost hopeless. You need to try these things. Timothy McGill, it's not as though you haven't had the experience before, that is, unless your wife dealt with the baby for you."
"Oh, well, you know, I wasn't around much and . . ."
"Yes, I know very well. They're called lame excuses and they will end. Now, I am going to enlist my sister's daughter to help out."
"YES!" three of us responded. AJ just kind of looked around and Lewis squinted at the loud outburst.
"Oh no, no, no. Not to do the work, but to supervise as you all learn to do it."
"Yeah, but we're guys!" whined Jeffy. Okay, he actually beat me to the sentence.
"And are perfectly capable of handling anything that this tiny little boy can dole out. Heavens, you'd think he was diseased or something. You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
"You're right, Linda Sue. I for one am sorry, right boys?" I said, looking at each of their long faces, expecting a similar response from them.
"I'll say you are," Jeffy said with his head down.
It took about three seconds for the rest of the room to catch his dig, then we all broke up laughing hysterically. I made a grab for him and gave him a nuggie until he fell through my arms and onto the floor, giggling like the little hyena he was.
"You men are almost hopeless. Timothy, I expect you to pay Karen for her work. She's just finished her first year in nursing school and has been volunteering in the maternity ward at the hospital for the last two or three years. She knows more about the care of babies then most mothers."
"Sounds good. Send her over any time. We'll be here with bells on," I said.
"Da-a-ad, I'm not wearing no bells for a girl," AJ stated flatly.
"I'm not wearing any bells," Elliot corrected.
"Yeah," AJ agreed. "You either, huh?"
### # # # # # # # # # ###
We had a wonderful evening. It was actually great having someone that we could all fuss over. Of course, the novelty would eventually wear off, but until that hour, I mean day, we were having the times of our lives with our little guy. He had the cutest habit of scrunching up his arms and legs into a ball when something really tickled him, and he would turn bright pink. Then he'd let out a squeal and burst open, splaying out his extremities and laughing heartily. He really loved it when the boys tossed him around a bit while Linda Sue tried to stay calm.
Then Linda Sue left. I think the two oldest boys followed her to the front door to beg her not to go, but it sounded like she was talking about their agreement about something. When they came back in, they were so attentive, not to Lewis necessarily, but to everything around us that would make our care for Lewis even easier, like cleaning up baby wipes and dirty clothes, even dirty diapers when needed. I was sure to thank them for their efforts. They were being so good.
Well, nighttime finally fell across the land and all was so well with us. Lewis conked out and I let Jeffy and Elliot change him into the sleeping outfit they'd picked out with Linda Sue. They'd been so helpful, they deserved it and they relished in fussing with him.
Of course, AJ and I were right at the door of my bedroom, spying on their efforts. They actually were almost flawless in their undressing, changing and dressing him again. He'd already had his bath because Linda Sue needed to show us how that went. But, by the time he was ready for bed, he needed to be changed again.
The three older boys and I barely took the time to sigh in relief before it was off to bed for all of us. Believe me, no one argued after the day we'd had.
### # # # # # # # # # ###
I'd been up three times that first night with a fussy baby, feeding him twice and changing him all three times. He did not like wearing wet and certainly not dirty diapers. He was a picky one from the get go.
So, when the doorbell rang at 8 AM the next morning, I was still asleep. Of course, the boys were too, with the possible exception of Elliot, who might have been out running or on his bike.
As I wandered into the hallway, I remembered who our visitor might be and quickly went back to put on shorts and a shirt.
Lewis was still out like a light, no doubt dreaming of bunny rabbits. He was spread out in his crib sideways until he could touch both sides, almost. I made sure he was covered and then headed for the front door.
"Karen Spear, Mr. McGill?" said one of the cutest young ladies to ever brighten my doorway.
"Please, call me Tim, Karen. I'm so pleased that you would want to help us out like this," I said, showing her into the house.
"Oh, no. I'm delighted to help out. He he, Aunt Linda said you guys were hopeless. Is that true?"
I showed her into the kitchen and, as I was making the first pot of coffee for the day, I responded.
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," I said. Then I got all humble and admitted it. "Okay, whatever she said is probably true. It's just that he's so small; I'm afraid we'll hurt him or something."
"Yes, she did mention you were good at flimsy excuses too," she said, giggling merrily.
"Oh." That's all I had in me.
### # # # # # # # # # ###
Karen was absolutely priceless. She never once helped with anything baby related until it was time to teach AJ and the boys the right way to change a diaper. For some reason, I had no problem with it. Even the worst of them just seemed a function of reality to me. But she was so great at directing us in everything until we began to get the hang of it.
She and the boys watched while I gave Lewis his bath in a plastic tub the boys bought with Linda Sue. He was getting big for it, but it was so much easier to wash him and keep him from sliding around in the big bathtub.
"You boys should just take turns and take your bath with him. Then one of you could take him and dry him while the other one finished washing."
That sounded so easy, but to watch the boys blush, you'd think they were afraid she would have to be in the bathroom too.
"Come on, guys. We're all pretty relaxed around here. I think it's a good idea," I suggested.
"Okay, Dad, you can be first then," offered AJ.
That brightened up the other two.
"Good grief!" said Karen. "You couldn't possibly be that modest in a household of all boys, could you?"
Elliot was the one that put it into perspective, "It isn't that so much as talking about it in front of a girl, I think," he said, looking at the other two as they agreed with him.
Later that day, and just before Karen left after her first day of training us, we all went outside to 'show Lewis the yard and stuff,' according to AJ. It was good for us all to get some sun, though.
Elliot and Jeffy were quick to hang Lewis between them holding his hands as they whooped and hollered and swung him back and forth. Lewis was having the time of his life after the first few swings which nearly made his eyes pop out.
"Hey, I wanna try it too," whined AJ, after a few minutes of excitement.
"Fine with me," agreed Jeffy handing the hand he was holding to AJ.
"No, no. I mean the swingin' part in the middle. I wanna do that part."
Karen and I started laughing as Jeffy tried to convince AJ that he was just plain too big for them to do that anymore.
"AJ," said Elliot, "You're the big uncle now. You get to do the fun stuff to Lewis like we get to."
"Dad, now that you got a baby that's really, truly yours and everything, are you gonna still keep Jeffy and Elliot and me? Cuz you don't need us now, right?"
I almost screamed or cried. I'm not sure which emotion was stronger. My heart sank that he would even think of that possibility.
Somewhere in the evening, just after a nice dinner and dessert and some quiet time for all of us in the living room, and a few minutes after Jeffy and AJ put Lewis down for the night, AJ crawled over to me, arms on my legs, kneeling in front of me, and asked his penetrating question, one that shot through me like a hot arrow, right into my heart.
It took me a minute to gather up my wits so I could speak intelligently, my emotions raging in every direction. I sat and stared at my boys before answering AJ, taking in the most beautiful family anyone could ever imagine. No, there was just no way I would ever do anything to lose the treasures I had in my new family.
"AJ, I don't have a baby that is really, truly mine."
"You, you don't? But I thought . . ." he said, looking over his shoulder and pointing upstairs.
I saw Jeffy's head shoot up to look at me curiously. Elliot was looking up from his book somewhere off to my side.
"AJ, I have a grandson and his three uncles that are really truly mine and nothing will ever change that. This isn't about blood and being born with my genes and chromosomes, you know."
"Huh?" he said with his nose scrunched up.
"What I mean is, you three boys couldn't be more mine if I had helped give birth to you, and nothing can take you away from me or make you even just a tiny bit less mine than anyone else in our family."
"Really, Pop?" Jeffy said as he crawled over next to AJ.
Then I noticed a shadow over my shoulder and saw Elliot standing beside me, his book in his hand by his side. He laid his other hand on my shoulder.
"Boys," I said, laying my hand on Elliot's, "We all should be blessed that we are given the privilege of raising our Lewis. But please be assured that he is just that–ours. It's just like I was given the privilege to raise you three as my own. So, the only difference is I got to choose you three to be a part of our family. Lewis had little choice in the matter, though I'm so glad it worked out that way. So, I think that makes you three just a little bit special in my book. Not better, just special."
"Yeah, like double wo-ow, Pop!"
"I second that," added Elliot. "Hey, can I read your book some time, Pop?"
"Elliot, I don't really have a . . ." I got out before he started laughing.
So, I reached around and grabbed him and within seconds he had automatically, instinctively learned the "I gotta pee!" safe phrase from his place in my lap, squirming and jumping around, probably from my tickling him.
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar